Saturday, 17 November 2018

Moved - again


As of 12th November 2018, I no longer live in the south of England.

I'm in Manchester!

At some point I will start adding stuff here about living in one of the Bright Centres of the Universe.

For now though, peach and lube everyone - peach and frelling lube.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Missing, presumed lost


We have so many things - stuff - cluttering up our lives. There are polar opposites in my own family to demonstrate this. Some of us hoard things stretching back to the first half of last century; some of us have moved continents a few times and no longer have attachments to material things and keep the place as bare as possible in case they have to move again.

Case in point: I moved back from Hong Kong 4 years, 11 months and 3 weeks ago (Hallowe’en 2013). I sat down with every single thing I owned and put it all into 2 piles, Keepers and Donators. The Keepers were packed up and I paid to have them shipped back to the UK. The Donators went to either friends, colleagues or charity shops. I didn’t have that much to go through, as I moved every 3 or so years and didn’t have time or space to amass much.

I’m moving again in a few weeks. And now I have to sit down and go through my life and evaluate what I actually want to keep hold of.

As I’ve got older I’ve definitely got colder. I have so much stuff I just don’t need and so much of it is going out, either to places like Music Magpie or charity shops.

However, I will be very careful with my stuff this time. After moving back from HK, over the years I’ve found a DVD missing here, a CD missing there. I would put it down to me thinking I would never need it again, and then needing it after all, except these are items I would never part with. Trying to get them replaced? Like searching for the frelling Holy Grail without the aid of Indiana Jones.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Take for example my back-catalogue of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (梁朝偉) movies and the handful of CDs I had. For some reason the only movies that survived my move back were ‘Infernal Affairs’ (無間道) and Chinese Odyssey (天下無雙). This is against all my instincts - he may be one of the finest actors of this generation (in any country), winning awards left right and centre, but he’s also got marvellous comic timing and his penchant for Chinese New Year slapstick comedies never fails to make me figuratively piss myself laughing. He also has a voice like hot chocolate on a grey and rainy windswept day, and he could read me the phone book and I'd be instantly happy. So the fact that I no longer have a copy of 風沙 (Wind and Sand) to listen to infuriates me. That is not something I would ever willingly part with. The worst part? Oh, let me tell you:

Hong Kong films from inception to the mid 2000s were shot on cheap film stock, and treated with about as much respect as commercials for toilet roll. The upshot is that if you want to find a film from before 2010 the DVD will be the poorest quality invented - if you can even find a copy. All the companies that used to make the DVDs (and VCDs - remember them?) have let them go out of print, so there’s just no stock. Can’t we just get a company to go about restoring and reissuing classics, then? Sounds like a good idea, until you factor in how the original film is probably in a mouldy old tin at the back of some office, bearing in mind a lot of production companies went out of business or have been bought by others. Good luck following the trail to these original prints and where they may be languishing now.

It’s absolutely enraging that in this day and age, when we can put astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts on the International Space Station and they can tweet us and send videos and such, that we can’t do something as easy as round up the top 100 films from HK history and put them on iTunes, Netflix, or a similar paid-for streaming service. And the problem is two-fold: the stock may be missing, but no-one is bothered about finding said stock, or originals. They don’t consider it important at all, and that’s very very depressing.

A while back, the BBC had a fire in their archives department and a lot of their early Doctor Who footage was destroyed (among other things). Everyone panicked, and then set about getting animators in to reconstruct damaged or lost episodes so that they still fit the soundtrack (that had miraculously survived in most cases). This was a resounding success, as anyone who now possesses a DVD of the Patrick Troughton era Cybermen story ‘Invasion’ will attest to.

I’m not saying that someone needs to go and reconstruct every slapstick or mou lei tau (無厘頭) HK movie from 1975 onwards - they were the 3rd busiest movie industry in the world, after India and then the USA - but something has to be done and it’s clearly not impossible. As anyone who has ever seen a film in their life will tell you, films/movies are more than just stories put on celluloid/digital record. They are a snapshot of the time, the place, the situation, society and people’s attitude to them all. They are anchors to how we were, why we were, and how we need to move forward. They record everything you ever need to know about the universe; to make an apple pie, you first need to invent the universe from scratch as Carl Sagan once said, and so the creation of each film in existence is a testament to everyone working on it. There’s the lighting technician that came up with new bulbs, the camera master that fine-tuned Dykstraflex because nothing at that time was good enough for the ‘Star Wars’ films, the stunt men and women that became stars in their own right (Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh), the script writers who went against convention and came up with zeitgeist masterpieces, the people who got together to prove that everyone saying there weren't enough people of colour available to cast a lead were wrong, and ended up making ‘Black Panther’ - the list goes on.

For so many reasons, we need to keep ‘classics’ available. How many people scrambled to get a copy of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ once it was restored and made available on new formats? A shit-tonne. Why? Because it was a milestone. And once the high-brow, ‘Empire’ magazine people were done gushing over how important it is in the universe, the rest of us enjoyed a surprisingly fresh and modern-feeling movie. Again - watching it for the first time in 2010, we were shocked how forward-facing and up to date it felt. It changed people’s minds on how ‘primitive’ movies were back before colour and sound and other add-ons. It provided us with a reference for how people felt and how they worked hard to bring us that vision and message.
You may argue that a Stephen Chow mou lei tau (無厘頭) movie, or a John Woo heroic bloodshed film, or a kitchen sink drama like ‘Love in a Puff’ are not in the same league, and some may agree with you. (And yet there are others, like ‘Happy Together’ and ‘Rouge’, that people are desperate to save because they fit in with other people’s idea of what’s ‘worthy’.) However, the social commentary and how invaluable the insight into how Hong Kong was, especially now, cannot be overstated. If there was ever a time to make sure Hong Kong culture is not erased or simply left to quietly disappear through apathy, it’s right now. So much is going on between Peking and Hong Kong, the people caught between Lion Rock and a hard place, that this is the time to quietly and efficiently restore and protect the legacy from the 50s - 2010s.

So it looks like I need to quit my job, go to HK, and set up a company to start tracing all the major production companies from back in the day. Make them cash offers for their collections, get everything in one place, back everything up, get a team to start cleaning and restoring, get a new team to do fresh, accurate subtitles (in 30-odd languages), and then start doing deals to get them on platforms where people can actually access them. Or even - and here’s a shock - get providers like Sky, Virgin, Freeview or whoever - to run our own channel of ‘classics’ - all HK, all the time. We'd take a loss, or course. Then we’d move our entire catalogue to Netflix - imagine the billboards and advertising. Jackie Chan’s entire back catalogue! Chow Yun-Fat in all his John Woo bullet ballet glory! The original ‘Young and Dangerous’ saga! Michelle Yeoh restored and awesome in her ‘Wing Chun’ days! And everything in its original Cantonese soundtrack, not the attempt by Peking to erase Hong Kong culture by dubbing everything into Mandarin and claiming it’s the official language of the territory.

Until then, if anyone hears of someone already doing this who needs help, then let me know I’ll be right there. In the meantime I’ll continue to scour eBay, Amazon, YesAsia, Play-Asia.com, Taiwanese one-stop-shops, HMV HK etc. for copies of the much-loved classics that I’ve mysteriously lost in my many moves.

UPDATE: There is one organisation who restores film, but to date they’ve only been commissioned to restore John Woo’s ‘A Better Tomorrow’ from 1986. So there is hope - but what about all the other films? A while ago Time Out produced their list of top 100 Hong Kong films. I’m not sure I agree with all of them or their places in the list, but it’s still a good place to start

Soopytwist everyone.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Move along home


We all want to be somewhere we can’t. A new job, a holiday, your bed. For me it’s Hong Kong.

Hong Kong tram
For those of you just joining us, I lived there for 11 years. Then, due to my gradually increasing dissatisfaction with the political struggles, work visa problems, and money, I returned to England. I adjusted all over again - the cold weather, the stodgy food, the moaning people (fuck me, but the people), the expensive money, the slower pace, the whole Brexit palava. For the first few months I had shoulder and neck problems; I returned in October and it was cold, and try as I might I couldn’t stop myself from unconsciously hunching against the lack of constant bone-warming humidity. I also did the thing where you convert all prices into something that makes sense in your head; a £10 cinema ticket was $110 to me so I could figure if that was good or not. As time went by I unlearnt to do these things and I had pretty much been assimilated to Blighty again.

However - movies; music; city life… All these things were missing and were missed. I kept up with Eason Chan’s new albums, with Donnie Yen’s new films, with news of Andy Lau Tak-Wah and his horse-riding accident. I discovered the TVB box that lets you watch HK TV (kind of like a Sky box for overseas subscribers), the band ToNick and their awesome sound, the growing political unrest and the HKFP’s efforts to keep the news open to all.

The one thing I couldn’t have was the city life back. Where I live now it’s basically a sleepy hollow, made up of people who obsess about the tiny things because they’ve never seen bigger ones. They’re small town people, and while that’s ok and fine for them, I find it very limiting. It’s talking to people who not only fail to realise that not everyone’s right handed, but have literally never heard of countries whose newspapers and popular press write/print right to left, top to bottom, because that’s the formal way to write. It’s chatting with these people who think that going vegan is bad for you, and when I say that Buddhists have been doing it for thousands of years and most of them seemed ok, they’re surprised. It’s recounting the story of the night you and your mate went out and got hammered at the bar, closed it at 4am by dancing on the table, setting fire to the noodles in 7-11 (I am still absolutely sure there was no mention of water in any of those instructions) on the munchies detour home, strolling back to the flat with a couple of coppers who found us fascinating - and they think this is something you’ve made up. No mate, you say patiently, that was par for the course pretty much one random Friday night a month.

So I want to be somewhere I cannot be - Hong Kong of 2013. It’s gone, and nothing will bring it back. My choice now is stay where I am or find a new city, one where I can work by simply flashing a passport. Somewhere fun, and vibrant, and alive - and preferably cheaper to live where I am now.

When it’s all concrete I’ll let you in on it. For now though, I’m checking Zoopla and RightMove, and I’m making lists and checking ‘em twice. Moving is tricky to be sure, but it’s a damn sight better than staying out here in Bumblefuck Nowhereville, waiting for something vaguely exciting to happen.

Soopytwist.

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